Pointing directly to the human heart
The second sentence in the Zen summary which Bodhidharma was supposed to have given us, well, it’s translated generally as pointing directly to the human heart but the word can mean a finger, a finger, penetrating to the heart, stabbing to the heart. The first sentence is, ‘Not setting up words and writings’, and very often talks on Zen begin like that. Of course, Zen does not set up words. And books on Zen often begin like that: ‘Zen does not set up writings’. And then you think, yes? Then the speaker or the author writes ‘nevertheless’. and then the whole matter.
But the point of what follows is that the finger should go directly into the heart and not be pointing outside. Is there Buddha nature in the dog? Yes or no?
The great Saigo, at the end of the century, although he ultimately became a rebel, is always called Great Saigo. He was very fond of dogs and kept a dog with him as his companion always. He went to the temple of a great Zen teacher, Dokuon, and the teacher came down from the temple gate when he heard the general was there.
Saigo looked at the dog and he said, ‘Is there Buddha nature in the dog?’ Is there?’
The Zen Master said, ‘General!’
Saigo looked at him, and the Master said, ‘Is there?’
And Saigo went, ‘Ah!’
He went away.
Now, some of the other things I’ve collected are from a Chinese classic of perhaps five or six hundred years ago and it’s often quoted, although, on the face of it, it’s a Taoist classic, by the Buddhists and at least one great Buddhist master received his first impulse in Zen from hearing a verse from this.
The writer uses humour quite a lot and consists of especially remarks on training and living in the world. One of the things he says is, ‘Don’t try to do it superbly well. Not to make a mess of it – that’s enough’.
Then, ‘If you do a virtuous act don’t expect the virtue of gratitude from them. If they don’t actively hate you, that’s enough virtue in them’, and then he adds, ‘and is probably all your virtue was worth anyway’.
Well, this is something that is very useful to remember when one’s done something that one is rather impressed with, and that’s probably all your virtue is worth anyway.
Now, these things are often in two lines of six characters, which is one of the forms of the Chinese poem, but just when you think this is how he writes in classical style, with two lines of six characters, and the thought is a pair, just when you think that’s how he writes, then you get one of three lines:
‘He who does not go near riches and opulence is pure.
He, who though brought near them, is not stained by them,
Is purest of all’.
Now, the modern Japanese Zen commentator who remarks on this, he says this is the Japanese ideal, for instance of Dogen, to go away, leave the capital and found your monastery, Eihei-ji, in the wild, far away from centres of power and wealth and he said this is the Japanese ideal of purity, but the Chinese ideal of purity is a man who can move in wealth and luxury and not be tainted by it.
‘He who does not know any clever tricks and strategies is noble, but he who knows them all but doesn’t use them is nobler’. This again is a Chinese thought.
‘He who constantly hears harsh admonitions, but can use them to clear his heart, they become a sort of whetstone for his training, but he who always hears pleasant things and is complacent about them, he ends up in a ditch of poison’.
Now, an Indian teacher says of this, that the criticisms he said, should be razors to us. He said even in the most pure person, even the most pure man, in this case, egoism grows insensibly from him, like the beard, without his realising it, and that cold criticism is like a sharp razor that cuts it off.
1. Rinzai Zen Buddhist nun, Venerable Myokyo-ni, was head of the London Zen Centre. She died in 2007.
2. Joshu Jushin, great Zen Master in ancient China, 778 – 897
3. Rinzai Zen Master, Dokuon, teacher at Shokokuji, Kyoto. The meeting was in 1869.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: The Flower of the Heart
Part 2: Pointing directly to the human heart
Part 3: The concealment of realisation
Part 4: Reaction from the universe
Part 5: You cannot live on sweets
Part 6: Some essential thing is missing
Part 7: Naming a thing is not knowing it